Australia will travel to South Africa for a limited-overs tour comprising a series of five one-day internationals that gets underway late this September. Ahead of the series scheduled to be played between September 30 and October 12, both the hosts and the visitors are set to play a one-off ODI against Ireland on September 25 and September 27 respectively as warm-up, before the real action kicks off. Centurion, Johannesburg, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town will host the respective five matches of the ODI series.
We look at the two teams, the inclusions and exclusions, as well as the key players from either side...
Batsman Rilee Rossouw and strike bowler Morne Morkel have been left out due to injuries. David Miller and Dale Steyn have been brought back as their respective replacements. Uncapped pace bowler Andile Phehlukwayo gets a place in the 16-member squad that will be led by AB de Villiers who had missed the test tour of New Zealand due to elbow injury.
The skipper himself along with Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock and Faf du Plessis will make up the nucleus of the South African batting lineup. Amla was their top performer in the West Indies Tri-nation series with 241 runs which included one hundred and one fifty. Though de Villiers is always dangerous in white ball cricket, Amla is going to be the key and we expect him to be the top-scorer for South Africa in this series.
The return of Dale Steyn in the 50-overs format will bring more juice into their pace bowling attack which also includes Kagiso Rabada, Wayne Parnell and Kyle Abbott. He had missed the tri-series but was at his destructive best against New Zealand in the recently concluded test series, picking up 8 wickets in the second test and 10 overall. He was also among the leading wicket-takers when South Africa last played Australia in a 3-match ODI series at home back in 2011/12. Spin options include specialists Imran Tahir and Tabraiz Shamsi as well as part-timer JP Duminy. Tahir was the highest wicket-taker in the West Indies tri-series and we feel that he could take the most wickets in this series since Australian batsmen have a reputation of being susceptible against spin.
Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood have not been named for this series to give them rest ahead of a busy home season while Nathan Coulter-Nile will miss out due to a back injury. This has made way for three uncapped pacemen - Chris Tremain, Joe Mennie and Daniel Worrall. Mitchell Marsh has been brought back while batsman Usman Khawaja, spinner Nathan Lyon and allrounder Moises Henriques have been dropped owing to underwhelming performances in the past.
If Australia were to pick three batsmen from their squad in whom they will be keeping faith for this series, they would be George Bailey, Steven Smith and David Warner. Bailey will be coming from a successful Sri Lanka tour where he topped the charts for the most runs at an average of 67.50. Skipper Smith was the leading run-scorer in the West Indies tri-series while Warner had finished among the top three batsmen in Australia's last tour of South Africa. The three batsmen are also the leading run-getters for their team in ODIs from the current generation of Australian cricketers and they will be the key members in their batting lineup. Expect Bailey to top-score for Australia in this series.
Seasoned campaigners in Australia's pace attack include James Faulkner, Mitchell Marsh, John Hastings and Scott Boland while Adam Zampa and Travis Head are there to handle the spin department. In Starc's absence, the visitors will look at their next best seamer - James Faulkner - to do the job. The bowling allrounder took 10 wickets in 5 matches in the recent ODI series against Sri Lanka and finished second only to Starc on the wickets list. He also has the most ODI wickets for Australia from the current squad - 80 from 59 matches. Leggie Adam Zampa has been the primary spinner in the side for a while now. He was one of the leading wicket-takers in the previous ODI series in Sri Lanka and the West Indies, and he could give the South African batsmen a hard time in the middle. But on South African pitches where the ball tends to zip off and bounce, we expect James Faulkner to be the wrecker-in-chief.
South Africa's performance in ODI cricket at home over the past two years has been very impressive. They have not lost a series since 2014, winning their last four bilateral series in a row against India, West Indies, New Zealand and England.
Australia too, in recent times, have been pretty good themselves outside of home in this format. Since winning the World Cup at home, they have played an ODI bilateral series against three major teams - England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka. While they lost the 3-match series 1-2 to New Zealand, they beat England 3-2 and Sri Lanka 4-1 in a 5-match series.
Head-to-head in South Africa, the two teams have played a total of 7 bilateral ODI series till date. While the very first series in 1993/94 resulted in a draw (4-4), the following six have been shared 3-3. Australia will be wary of the fact that they have never beaten South Africa in a 5-match bilateral ODI series in South Africa. Two such series were played (in 2005/06 and 2008/09), and both were won by the hosts 3-2.
Australia are the current world champions in the 50-over format and are right at the top on the ICC ODI rankings while South Africa are three places behind at #4. The last time they toured the rainbow nation in 2011/12, Australia won the 3-match ODI series 2-1. But this time, they are coming with a slightly weakened squad with three key members in Starc, Hazlewood and Coulter-Nile missing. In their place, they have included three seamers that do not have any prior experience of playing at the international level.
So considering South Africa's good run in the ODIs at home paired with the fact that they have never lost a 5-match bilateral ODI series to Australia here, we feel that the hosts stand a better chance of winning this series.
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